I see a lot of articles written about various feminist icons and female role models that we should all look up to. A lot of these are real women who did amazing things, some of them are fictional characters who hold strong ideologies, and a few of them are even from animated shows. And whilst I always admired how Sailor Moon and Daria Morgendorffer were great role models, one of my childhood TV favourites seemed to escape my notice until I was 21. Every few years or so, I like to rewatch Digimon, and at every stage in my life I seem to pick a new Digimon that I’d want as my partner. As a kid it was Biyomon because she was pink and cute, as a teenager it was Gatomon because she was super sassy and a cat, but as a twentysomething, it is Palmon.
What I love about Digimon is that the Digidestined and their Digimon complement each other so greatly. I love Pokémon and everything, but it’s not as if Ash and Pikachu ever had a meaningful conversation about morals and compassion. When Mimi and Palmon first meet one another, they bond over seemingly aesthetic conversations, with Mimi complimenting Palmon’s hair. ‘Oh great’, you sigh, ‘this is the character they’re gonna use to sell the show to the kids who prefer princesses to battling monsters’. But you soon realise how wrong you were, with Palmon retorting ‘do you think you put too much emphasis on appearance?’ Palmon is more than meets the eye; she loves to get her hands (uh, leaves?) dirty and battle with the others, and isn’t afraid to tell Mimi when she’s being selfish or unreasonable. One of my biggest problems with kids cartoons is that there’s always the tomboy and there’s always the girl who likes dresses; not many programmes show that you can be both at once. You can worry about your hair or your nails without missing out on any of the action. You may be the butt of some jokes for a bit of comic relief, but that’s okay, because everyone knows you’re a valued part of the team. Palmon is this character, and she only brings out the best in Mimi.
Palmon sums it up best herself when she says ‘I may be a lady, but I am no pushover!’ She’s like the Buffy Summers of the Digiworld. And although you may initially think that she was designed to look so cute to bond with Mimi’s fashion loving persona, when Palmon digivolves into Togemon she completely loses the adorable little flower look. She becomes badass. Her colourful talons (that I would love to recreate with nail art) get switched for giant red boxing gloves, and the hair that Mimi originally complemented becomes a tuft of blonde sprouting out of the top of her head. Her adorable anime eyes are replaced by black hollow holes void of any expression– but she works it. She’s even covered in a layer of spikes, which is kind of reminiscent of a woman embracing her natural body hair (she only sheds them when she’s firing them at evil Digimon). And by the time Palmon has digivolved for the first time, only the sixth episode of the season, the usually image conscious Mimi doesn’t even make a comment. As if Palmon’s kind and compassionate and feminist (???) nature has already rubbed off on her.
But the extraordinary nature of Palmon doesn’t stop there. Whilst some poor unfortunate souls may be under the impression that women can only be strong if they take on masculine qualities, Togemon totally goes onto defy this by digivolving again and becoming the type of Digimon you would have always expected Mimi to have. Lillymon is the epitome of cute. She is a literal flower, more humanoid than Palmon was, with her petals taking the form of a dress and matching hat. Her leaves act as boots and delicate gloves, a change from her image as Togemon, and her vines even resemble jewelry. And she’s an Ultimate Level Digimon, in league with the likes of WereGarurumon and MetalGreymon, who are very distinctively masculine. And when she’s finished fighting bad guys in her adorable pink outfit, she can joke around and make stereotypically feminine quips with Mimi, even telling her ‘you’re a very special girl, even if your wardrobe sometimes clashes’. Once again showing that you can wear cute dresses and also destroy giant evil monsters that are trying to ravage Tokyo.
All of the Digidestined’s partners give great lessons throughout the show. From courage to responsibility, or from trust to finally breaking free from the abuse you’re used to, and I’m definitely not trying to belittle that. Gatomon’s relationship with Kari is one of my favourite things about the whole show, and her backstory with Myotismon is heartbreaking. But there’s just something I love about Palmon and her digivolutions. In Sailor Moon, Serena is portrayed as totally useless and quintessentially girly, only gaining her strength when she uses the Silver Crystal. And Daria, as wonderful as she is, regularly criticizes Quinn for her love of fashion in an extremely negative way, often feeling she is superior to her sister for her own disregard of conventional beauty standards. I’m not condemning characters who are stereotypically feminine and shy away from danger (I think the various beauty reviews on this blog should show that), nor am I condemning the tomboys who hate wearing dresses (as that was me as a kid). But I am reprimanding the way that the media often portrays the girly girl and the action girl as two separate, and often warring, characters.
If I was ever sucked into a world made entirely of data and forced to defend it from giant monsters, I’d definitely want to bring some moisturizer and a ferocious red lipstick for when I’m fighting to the death. And I think that Palmon would look great in it too.